May 15, 2014
Former Wolverine standout Courtney Reid Alexander knows now that it can happen to anyone.
A first team All-American and Big Ten Tournament MVP during a heralded career with the Michigan field hockey program (1997-2000), Alexander stayed active by running, playing ice hockey and chasing around three young children. She was the picture of health.
Until, one day, she wasn't.
On Feb. 3, 2013, Alexander went into sudden cardiac arrest in the driveway of her former home in Hamburg, Mich. Her husband, Nick, a former Michigan baseball player (1998-2001), was with her at the time, called 911 and delivered CPR until the first police car arrived within a few minutes.
The police car was equipped with an automated external defibrillator (AED), and the officers were able to quickly get Alexander's heart restarted -- before the arrival of EMS more than five minutes later.
"Had those police officers not had that device, I would have gone an additional five-to-seven minutes without oxygen and my story probably would have been a lot different," said Alexander. "I would either be dead or severely brain damaged."
It is estimated that more than 400,000 people experience sudden cardiac arrest each year -- more than 1,000 every day -- and nine out of 10 victims do not survive. With cardiac arrest, time is crucial. For each minute defibrillation is delayed, the chance of survival is reduced approximately 10 percent.
An AED is a portable medical device that analyzes the heart's rhythm and, if necessary, delivers an electrical shock to help the heart reestablish an effective rhythm. It is the only definitive treatment for restoring a regular heart rhythm during sudden cardiac arrest.
Emerging from the hospital soon after, Alexander learned that defibrillators had become standard-issued equipment for every police vehicle in Hamburg Township following a similar incident several years earlier.
Country singer Michael Harding went into cardiac arrest at the 2006 Hamburg Fun Fest after performing one song and subsequently collapsing offstage. He was saved by an on-site AED. The event's organizers, the Hamburg Enhanced Recreation Organization (HERO), held a fundraiser and raised more than $20,000 to buy 11 defibrillators for the township.
"Marcia [Pankratz] actually told me about that, so I went on the internet and researched it and saw the report that Click on Detroit did on it." said Alexander. "As a community, they had raised the funds for the devices. After I recovered, I kept thinking about how I could pay it forward."
The Alexanders were in the midst of a move when the event occurred and settled into their new home in Pittsfield Township just a month later. In researching the accessibility of AEDs in her new area, Courtney discovered that Pittsfield Township was in fact the only police department in Washtenaw County that did not carry AEDs in its on-duty police cars.
After getting in contact with the Pittsfield Township supervisor, her fundraising plan took off. Alexander's goal was to fundraise $8,000, enough money to purchase seven AED devices -- at a cost of $1,000 each -- for each Pittsfield Township police car and additional funds for replacement pads and batteries.
She launched her GoFundMe page and within a month, she exceeded her goal, raising $12,900 with donations from 102 people, including many former Michigan baseball and field hockey players. With the excess funds, Pittsfield Township plans to purchase an eighth AED to serve as a training device, while Alexander said she hopes to see another go to a local business or community area.
In late April, Alexander and her family hosted a gathering at their home to mark the conclusion of her fundraising effort. Initially, it was to serve as her primary fundraiser, where she would make her pitch and collect donations. She had sent her GoFundMe page to those she invited to provide an alternate place to donate if they could not attend. But thanks to social media, the site spread throughout her extended network, and she surpassed her goal well before the gathering.
"Instead it became a 'thank you' event to everyone who had donated," said Alexander. "It was really neat, because the police officers who saved my life came as well as the supervisor and police chief of Pittsfield Township. We also had a demonstration of a device and educated everybody on how to use it.
"Something I told to everyone who donated, even if it was just $10, was: 'I have no doubt it's going to save a life in the years to come. It will be gratifying to be a part of something special like that.' All those people up in Hamburg, they had a part in saving my life. I wish everyone who donated to that police department could know what a difference it made."
Contact: Leah Howard